The Meccano Model Library

What is Meccano?

Meccano (TM) is a metal construction system patented by Liverpool entrepreneur Frank Hornby in 1901. In its heyday it was a tremendous success, becoming a household name, and spawning a large number of derivatives, including Gilbert Erector in the USA and Marklin in Germany. The Erector brand has now been reconnected to Meccano and today's Erector sets are the same as those sold by Meccano SA in Europe.

The system uses perforated strips, plates, girders, gears and pulleys of steel and brass which are bolted together to make models which can be disassembled and used over and over again. There are hundreds of different parts.

Originally intended as an educational toy to stimulate the brains of Edwardian children, Meccano launched Hornby on a career which was to take him all the way to Parliament as one of Liverpool's most famous sons.

Meanwhile, it rapidly became apparent that the pipe-smoking father on the covers of Meccano instruction booklets was just as enthralled by the "toy" as the well-scrubbed schoolboys he was buying it for. By the 1920s instructions for "supermodels" were being designed and published some of which remain milestones of complexity for the adult modeller.

By the 1960s rival plastic construction toys - cheaper, and with a wider and younger appeal - were carving huge chunks out of Meccano's market, while Meccano itself proved slow to adapt to the new challenge. In 1979 Meccano's factory at Binns Road in Liverpool closed its doors for the last time, and the company was bought by a French corporation to be relaunched as Meccano SA, based in Calais.

Today Meccano struggles in a marketplace dominated by TV tie-ins, cheap dolls and the ubiquitous plastic building brick. But its devotees are a tenacious bunch, and there is still a potent magic about the inexorable turning of those shining brass gears which is guaranteed to draw crowds wherever good models are displayed.

For more information about Frank Hornby and the history of the Meccano system, try the International Society of Meccanomen or the Transvaal Meccano Guild.

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